The Monroe Campus of Northampton Community College in the Poconos strikes gold and more on an environmental journey.
LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, as designated by the U.S. Green Building Council, is more than a symbol of excellence in green building. It represents a standard of environmental stewardship that succeeds in “acting on the triple bottom line - putting people, planet and profit first.”
While Northampton Community College (NCC) is celebrating its 30th year in Monroe County, it was just over 10 years ago that NCC held a “Monroe Dream Session” with its faculty and staff, board of trustees and students to formulate a vision for a new campus that would serve all of Monroe County. One of the most important parts of the vision was that the new campus would become an example of responsible environmental stewardship whether it ended up becoming silver, gold or platinum LEED.
In December 2015, NCC had a special ceremony on campus to announce that it had indeed met the goal of becoming LEED Gold as certified by the U.S Green Building Council. But that certification did not happen easily – nor did it happen as originally planned. As with all big vision projects, it took time to get things started. There were zigs and zags, and an economic downturn in 2008 that almost derailed the entire project. It took a lot of passion and dedication by many to stay the course to complete the current campus in Monroe County that is so valued by the students and faculty.
I was privileged to speak with Matt Connell, Dean of the Monroe Campus of NCC for the past 24 years, about the journey that took the NCC – Monroe campus from more humble college grounds by renting high school buildings all the way to Gold LEED building status.
Back in 1998, I learned that NCC was selling off an old campus and then utilized high school buildings and the local Chamber of Commerce site as classrooms in the evening for their students – approximately 600 of them! They also rented space in downtown Stroudsburg for a couple of years until they decided they needed a more permanent location. As Dean Connell says, they bought what was then an old blouse factory in Tannersville – right off of 611 – and it became as he would lovingly call it, “A 10,000 square foot one room schoolhouse – a couple of classrooms, computer labs and some snack machines.” NCC added some modular trailers to increase its capacity as its enrollment grew.
Incredibly, NCC went through two phases of expansion at that original campus and eventually grew to a 40,000 square foot facility campus to accommodate up to 2,200 students through 2002. But NCC really needed to add more space. The original campus, while it had classrooms, science labs and some administrative offices with a small library had, according to Connell, “NO Student space. The campus lacked all of the amenities that students look for when they come to a college campus.” But, he said all of those shortcomings at a commuter campus really spurred them on to add to the student space that is now in existence on their campus. He said, “That’s what led to the Dream Day.”
When I asked about how NCC was able to engage the local Monroe community to help the project move forward financially, Connell said it was more of a yin and yang experience at the beginning. While NCC did seek support from the local community in a couple of different ways, because of the market forces happening with the collapse of the housing market in 2008, there were different schools of thought as to what the community could do. Connell stated that three years ago, folks in the banking field shared information with him “that showed Monroe County took it on the chin more than once when the housing market crashed. He added, “Real estate taxes in Monroe County are some of the highest in the state.”
The dean indicated that the market force essentially galvanized a lot of folks in the community to say, ”We’re already paying school taxes, we’re not going to take on another tax to support a community college, so – again, it wasn’t the purpose of what we were doing, it was more their engagement with it. In many ways, it was just poor timing!”
When I asked the dean what came out of the construction process that was notable for him, he replied that while he has spoken about how important it was for NCC – Monroe Campus to get the LEED certification, one of the things that impressed him personally and professionally, as the construction process took place, was learning that 80 percent of the waste generated in the construction of this campus was recycled. “And I did not realize that was part of the LEED certification – so that was really impressive,” he said.
He added that “a key part of minimum LEED certification was that the delivery of materials and supplies and equipment to build and equip this campus could come only from a radius of a certain distance because of minimizing the impact on the environment with exhaust emissions from all vehicles that were bringing materials and equipment to build the campus.”
Having toured the campus this past spring, I can say that everything about this campus has been designed for energy efficiency and sustainability. It is what you would call a “smart” school with all energy use constantly monitored and adjusted by computer to maximize clean energy efficiency.
The NCC Monroe campus Environmental Fact sheet shows they now have:
Solar Voltaic System
- 2090 solar panels producing 637 kW of power
- Provides about 40% of the campus annual electric needs
- Generates over 700,000 kWh per year, or enough electricity to power 70 homes
Campus HVAC Management System
- Trane Tracer Computerized Energy Management System
- Monitors and Controls over 4,000 points through out the campus
- Saves over 660,000 kWh per year, or enough electricity to power 60 homes.
Campus Lighting Management System
- Lutron Computerized Lighting Management System
- Monitors and controls over 10,000 lights throughout the campus
- Saves over 450,000 kWh per year, or enough electricity to power 45 homes
Geothermal Heating and Cooling System
- 164 wells that are 450 feet deep
- Closed loop, meaning water is recirculated, not extracted from the ground
- Provides 100% of the campus heating and cooling needs
- Saves over 200,000 kWh per year, or enough electricity to power 20 homes.
Wind Turbine System
- 10kW Bergey wind turbine on an 80 ft tower
- Started operation April 2016
- Expected to generate over11,200kW per year
I asked the Dean what challenges lay ahead for the college now that the GOLD certification is complete and has been operating for awhile. He said that while they are proud that they have the full package that is having a positive impact on the environment, they have more to do.
“From a systems point of view, everything is operating as it should be on the solar panel system, on the geothermal wells, on the lighting, heating and cooling. Everything is working as it should be. With mechanical systems, you are always going to have breakdowns and things, so that part is working well. From a programmatic point of view, the thing we must do as a college now is figure out how to access and leverage all of the resources that we have at this GOLD LEED certified campus and convert it into an educational program that prepares individuals to be able to manage future LEED certified programs and campuses or buildings,” he said.
“In our minds, there will be a number of these projects taking place over the next 10 or 15 years, and each one will build upon and learn from the previous project. But they’ll need trained individuals to manage those complex operations daily – and leverage and maximize the ability of those places to limit impact on the environment. Our next step is to figure out how to convert that to a credential that is marketable and those individuals employed in that field. That will be a growing field over the next 10 or 15 years.”
As to what the Dean hopes for the future of the college, he says that the legacy of the institution always looks to leave is one of, ”We did everything we could as an institution to help students succeed and achieve the dreams and goals that they have whether it’s with one class or degree – and we did everything we could using the high touch, high tech approach that really engages students in meaningful ways, and in doing so, helped them gain confidence and help them recognize that they can achieve a number of things that they were not always sure about before they got to us.”
NC Monroe County has certainly struck GOLD with more than their LEED building. Their accountability on environmental impacts is impressive and they are taking the next steps to grow leaders in this field.
Thank you to the NCC Board of Trustees, faculty and students and Dean Connell who started the “dream day” and made it happen in Monroe County!